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Retailers See Flavored Whiskies Attracting New Consumers

May 17, 2021

Kentucky’s Liquor Barn is one of the go-to retail chains for whisk(e)y. In the epicenter of Bourbon country, the stores carry a vast range of whiskies—many allocated and revered by critics—from Kentucky and all over the world. The selection attracts local and regional whisk(e)y aficionados—consumers who are well-versed in the nuances of brands and styles. Yet alongside that massive selection is a growing range of flavored whiskies that are appealing to die-hard whisk(e)y connoisseurs as well as more casual drinkers.

“Demand has been very high for flavored whiskies and even higher during the pandemic,” says Jonathan Blue, chairman and managing director of Blue Equity LLC, which owns the Liquor Barn, DEP’s Fine Wine & Spirits, and Party Mart chains in Kentucky. “You’d think that whisk(e)y drinkers from Kentucky and the surrounding area are purists who wouldn’t want to deviate from the standard products, but they’ve absolutely taken to flavors. The highest demand we see is for the flavored whiskeys made in Kentucky, except for Skrewball. If it’s Kentucky-made, even if it’s an extreme, exotic flavor, it resonates with customers. But Skrewball is such a phenomenon that it’s in a category all by itself.”

The enthusiasm surrounding flavored whiskies has brought volume numbers to new heights. Depletions reached an estimated 16.18 million 9-liter cases in 2020, according to Impact Databank. A decade ago, volume was under 2 million cases. Blue says the flavored options appeal to devoted whisk(e)y drinkers but also have expanded the audience with more young consumers and more women.

The enthusiasm for flavors isn’t limited to Bourbon country. West Coast retail chain BevMo, which has stores in California, Arizona, and Washington and a robust online presence, is experiencing strong demand for flavored whiskies as well, according to Jeff Feist, the chain’s category lead for spirits. He says dollar sales of flavored whiskies were up 22.6% in 2020, led by Skrewball ($25 a 750-ml.), Fireball ($15), and the Crown Royal range of flavors ($26). “We still see a lot of new and curious drinkers coming into this category,” Feist says. “The good news is that even though they might be brand loyal, that does not mean they are flavor loyal. We see customers experimenting with different flavor profiles constantly.”

For Infinium Spirits’ Skrewball Peanut Butter whiskey, which was named the Market Watch Leaders Best New Spirits product in 2020, flavors are bringing new people into the fold. “The flavored whisk(e)y category attracts new consumers and accelerates greater acceptance in demographics like women, millennials, and the Hispanic multicultural community,” says Skrewball president Carl Carlson. While he acknowledges some exhaustion regarding certain flavors, he says consumers are deciding which flavors they want around for the long haul. “The innovation has certainly provided a spark that was needed,” he adds. Market Watch has more on the dynamic retail market for flavored whiskies.—Carol Ward

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